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Miami Herald - 12/27/04 -

New homes brighten long-neglected area

Families are moving into the single-family homes in Fort Lauderdale's Sweeting Estates, one of several new developments springing up along the Sistrunk Boulevard corridor.


When Jasmin Freeman's family drove up to their future home in Fort Lauderdale's Sweeting Estates last year, everyone got out of the car to look at the construction -- except Jasmin.

The teenager took one look at the decrepit apartment building next door, which then was a haven for drug users, and decided the place wasn't for her. ''I power-locked the car,'' she said.

Now, that's all changed. She and her father, Ronald Freeman, moved into their single-family house in June. It's one of several homes springing up along Sistrunk Boulevard as part of the Sweeting Estates development, which is helping to change the blighted landscape.

''I'm the first one out the car,'' said a grinning Jasmin, 13, on a recent Sunday afternoon. ``I get my own room. It's all good now.''

The first phase of the Sweeting Estates development includes 18 single-family homes. Three, including the Freeman's four-bedroom residence, have been built and sold. An additional 12 homes are reserved or under contract. Prices range from $124,000 to $195,000. Twelve townhomes also are envisioned for the neighborhood.

The townhomes will be completed in late 2005 or early 2006, said Jacqueline Tufts, executive director of New Visions Community Development Corp., one of the three partners in the project and a division of Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale.

''People call every day about those,'' Tufts said.

The other two partners in Sweeting Estates are Fort Lauderdale's Community Redevelopment Agency and Bank of America. The three held a ceremony this month celebrating completion of the three homes.

In all, Bank of America plans to develop 50 single-family homes in Sweeting Estates, south of Sistrunk Boulevard between Northwest 21st Terrace and 25th Avenue.

Sweeting Estates is named after Dr. Harry Gladstone Sweeting, a Fort Lauderdale philanthropist who died of cancer in 1982. The new homes are blocks from Sweetings Landing, a development on the north fork of the New River. Retail and commercial development and a grocery store are also planned along the Sistrunk Boulevard corridor.

The CRA has provided almost $2 million for the Sweeting Estates project. In all, it will invest $46 million toward redevelopment in the area over the next five years.

''We love the neighborhood,'' Freeman, an independent contractor with FedEx, said recently, sitting in his back yard. The decrepit apartments next door have been demolished to make way for a new home.

The Freemans lived in Deerfield Beach until his wife, Wonda Gaskins Freeman, died in 1996 of complications from diabetes. Ronald Freeman and Jasmin moved into an efficiency behind his mother's home in Oakland Park.

Last year, Freeman's mother Katie Freeman told him about New Visions' first-time home-buyers class after reading a newspaper article. He took the class and closed on his home in June.

The same night, Freeman boasted to friends that he was going home, and he slept on the carpet in the empty house.

''I was wondering why he didn't come home that night,'' Jasmin said.

The Freemans have joined the Rivergardens Sweeting Estates Homeowners Association, and have gotten to know their neighbors. Claretha Russell, 71, and Richard Russell, 73, residents of the neighborhood since 1953, have welcomed them. Jasmine spends a lot of time at the Russells' home.

''They're pretty good neighbors,'' said Claretha Russell, who has worked with Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Carlton Moore and the CRA to clean up the area.

''This block was heavy with drugs and prostitutes,'' she said. ``It's not 100 percent [better], but it's come a long way, about 75 percent.''